M. Allen Swift with his 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Picadilly RoadsterEnlarge Photo
We've all heard the stories about people who hang onto their cars for decades.
Irv Gordon's 1966 Volvo P1800 is one; he's got more than 2.6 million miles on it now, after buying it new for $4,150.
Then there's Rachel Veitch, who at 91 has logged 562,000 miles--and had no fewer than 18 batteries and seven mufflers under "lifetime warranty" programs--on her 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente.
But M. Allen Swift of Massachusetts holds the Guinness World Record for longest-standing original owner. The length of time he drove his car may never be beaten: He was given his 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Picadilly Roadster new as a graduation gift, and drove it for an astounding 77 years.
He stopped driving, according to the Hartford Courant, only shortly before his death in October 2005, aged 102. The car covered 170,000 miles in that time, largely around Hartford, Connecticut, where Swift managed his family's precious metals business.
Irv Gordon with 1966 Volvo P1800Enlarge Photo
Before he died, Swift made provisions for the car to be preserved for the public. He left $1 million as the seed funding to establish a new exhibit of industrial heritage in Springfield, Massachusetts.
That money enabled the museum to raise a total of $8 million for a new building that opened in October 2009 to highlight the area's industrial past, including factories that built the Indian motorcycle and the nation's first mass-produced gasoline car, the Duryea.
Additional exhibits cover Springfield's long history of gun manufacturing, as well as boats, outboard motors, and other products.
The Connecticut Valley Historical Museum now houses the two-tone green Rolls-Royce roadster, which still runs as quietly as it did the day it was built, according to museum director Guy McLain.
But why Springfield, of all places? Because that's actually where Swift's Rolls-Royce, too, was built.
Rolls-Royce was one of the very first carmakers to establish what we would now call a "transplant" factory, assembling luxury cars in Springfield from 1921 to 1931.
The Depression ended the experiment, and all subsequent Rolls-Royces have been built in England. A total of 2,500 cars were built over the 10 years, and more than half of them survive today.
For the record, it's not actually all that green to keep driving an old car, unless its fuel efficiency is high to start with. Manufacturing only contributes 6 percent of a vehicle's overall carbon footprint, according to a 2000 report from the MIT Energy Laboratory, On the Road in 2020: A Lifecycle Analysis of New Automotive Technologies.
The fuel it consumes, and the refining and transportation of that fuel, makes up 94 percent of its lifetime carbon emissions. So if you buy a new car that's twice as fuel-efficient as your old one--a 50-mpg 2011 Toyota Prius, for example, to replace an 25-mpg car--you'll cut its carbon emissions almost in half over the life of the vehicle.
Still, that shouldn't take anything away from Mr. Swift's accomplishment. Nor, for that matter, from his car and the engineers who designed and built it.
After all, can you think of a 2011 car that would be likely to run as well as it does today ... in the year 2088?